Lexis Nexis - Case Brief

Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.

Law School Case Brief

State v. Freeman - 127 N.C. 544, 37 S.E. 206, 1900 N.C. LEXIS 128

Rule:

The law is that where two or more parties are indicted for an affray, and the affray (the criminal offense) is admitted, or found from the evidence, then the burden is shifted, and thrown upon any one of the parties engaged in the affray to justify or excuse himself from guilt. But this only takes place after the offense is established. To apply this rule before a breach of the peace has been established is to compel the defendant to prove himself innocent of the charge preferred against him by the state. This is in violation of the constitutional rights of every freeman and is not the law.

Facts:

Four defendants, Robert Freeman, Bud McKenzie, Henry Freeman, and Sam McLeod, were indicted for an affray. All four of them were put on trial, and the jury found the defendants guilty of simple assault. They testified that they were under the influence of liquor and that while returning from a fishing party along the public road in company with various other parties, they engaged in a friendly scuffle. Defendants claimed that they were not mad and that the engagement was entirely friendly. The trial court charged the jury that defendants admitted that they were in a scuffle and that, therefore, the burden shifted from the State to defendants to satisfy the jury that they were not mad and fighting and that the encounter was a friendly one. The trial court convicted them of simple assault.

Issue:

Was there an admission of guilt by the four defendants?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

Defendants did not confess their guilt. Indeed, they denied it. It cannot be that parties "engaged in a friendly scuffle" are guilty of an affray, and this is all that they admitted. Because of this error, the Court ordered a new trial, holding that the evidence from defendants was that they engaged in a friendly scuffle and that there was only slight evidence of an affray. The court held that because there was no admission of an affray, the trial court improperly shifted the burden of proof to defendants to show that it was only a friendly scuffle. This shift violated their constitutional right to a presumption of innocence until they confessed guilt or were found guilty by a jury. Where two or more parties are indicted for an affray, and the affray (the criminal offense) is admitted, or found from the evidence, then the burden is shifted, and thrown upon any one of the parties engaged in the affray to justify or excuse himself from guilt. But this only takes place after the offense is established. To apply this rule before a breach of the peace has been established would be to compel the defendant to prove himself innocent of the charge preferred against him by the State. This is in violation of the constitutional rights of every freeman, and is not the law.

Access the full text case Not a Lexis Advance subscriber? Try it out for free.
Be Sure You're Prepared for Class